People who protest oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure in Ohio could face stiffer penalties, under a bill passed by the Ohio House late Thursday.
The bill creates heavier penalties for trespass and tampering of critical infrastructure like oil, gas, electric, water, telecommunications and railroads.
Tampering with these types of facilities could mean a third degree felony charge, which carries a maximum fine of $10,000 and up to three years in prison, more severe than trespass charges at other locations.
This is needed, according to state Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord), who spoke on the House floor Thursday, because of the costly damage that can be done to this type of infrastructure.
“Here in Ohio, we didn’t have any way to deal with that, other than the normal petty trespass and vandalism, which is not enough to cover the damage that is done in these instances,” he said.
More than 170 Ohioans previously testified against the measure, many calling it an effort to shut down protests, especially against pipelines and energy development.
The bill calls for penalties not just for individuals who trespass, but for groups seen to encourage them. Environmental groups fear that even chanting “stop the pipeline” could be construed as encouraging damage to critical infrastructure, which could lead to fines 10 times those levied against individuals.
“SB 33’s purpose is to intimidate individuals, communities, and organizations lawfully exercising their First Amendment and other fundamental rights,” wrote Cheryl Johncox of the Sierra Club in her testimony to an Ohio Senate committee opposing the bill.
The Ohio bill has now passed the House and Senate, and needs Gov. Mike DeWine’s signature to go into law.